Wednesday, December 28, 2005

SPAM!

The ease and power of personal computing and modern communications technology provides an unfortunately easy route for the degenerates of society to represent a disproportionately high percentage of internet traffic (specifically email).

Lately, this little nothing of a blog has received attention and spam comment posts from automated web crawlers. I've since turned on the comment moderation and image verification processes to prevent, or at least inhibit that.

To be online these days it's almost required to have good email filters in place - as well as virus and adware checkers for those on target operating systems (pleasantly exempt here), and a healthy dose of skepticism and some technical savvy against phishing practices. This means that those few people who have an interest in promoting this abuse of technology and fellow members of society have made us have to exert considerable effort in an arms-race to remain unscathed.

I don't like someone else making me work without my consent, and rather resent the flippancy with which they regard their activity. They are criminals, though - I don't suppose I could expect them to put the same effort into some legitimate act, since one of the defining criteria of the thug (cyber or otherwise) is laziness and a belief in quick, easy riches (or at the very least, comfortable living).

Still, it amazes me how hard some people will work to be lazy. And for now at least I'll still be tolerant based on my belief in the independent agency of man, and the fact that if I want to work in the wired world it's best done with eyes open about the nature of that environment.

Hold my breath and jump in, I suppose.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

I've been too busy working to post lately.

This Christmas, I'm too busy with my family.

I much prefer this kind of busy, and I'm not going to spoil it by spending time with my eyeballs glued to the monitor.

I'm going to bed, and when I wake up, I won't be here (on teh interweb).

I love it. :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gone Digital

It worked.

Or, at least, has worked so far - it's only been a couple of weeks, really. But in that time I've been able to introspectively express myself in the same way, and with the same feel. The same constraints apply - taking my time, and only writing when I'm not completely bushed - and adherance thereto renders similar quality in the entries.

I'm assuming those same rules apply here too, and I am completely exhausted, so this will likely be short.

Oh look, there it goes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Going Digital

For much of my life I've been an aggressive journal keeper - 11 volumes (of various size and shape) filled with meticulous scrawl, if the two words can be combined. There's typically a beautiful uniform slant and height set to my penmanship, but it doesn't score high for legibility.

Anywhoo - this practice has been for me a wonderfully meditative exercise, forcing me align my thoughts linearly. The slow pace of the output also forces me to prune that chain down to single, dominant, and focused thread. Stepping back and moving a little slower is a good thing, and has frequently deepened my resolve, refreshed my dedication, or provided personal insight that I doubt would otherwise have been available.

It has also been recently neglected, for the same reason that all my non-work endeavors have been dying: time. Even blogging - averaging 3 weeks to a month between posts, which take about 10 or 15 minutes to put together if I'm doing concerned self-editing (all the posts here are still pretty rough, but at least the grammar is consistent and I don't repeat common phrase construction across multiple sentences and paragraphs). In an effort to begin to resurrect the journaling, I'm going to break out of the current volume-bound format and finally plunge into the digital realm.

The reason I didn't do this years ago was the difficulty and sheer nerdliness of maintaining continual access to digital input mechanisms, and my commitment to the contiguous population of the current volume (whatever it was at the time). I'm now nearing the end of this 11th tome, and the time has come to reevaluate that position. I currently have 3 devices (2 literal, one virtual) which would allow me access to this intimate recording process without hesitation:

  • Palm Pilot (Sony Clie PEG-UX50 w/backlit keyboard)
  • Alphasmart 3000 (stand-alone portable word processor)
  • Any internet enabled computer
This means the maintenance of an un-broken record becomes a reality, and can now involve multiple media types (incorporating digital photos and artistry). I also have plans of adding the Acecad DigiMemo 692 (stand-alone hand-writing digitizer) to this collection over Christmas, allowing me to maintain the personal touch of the familiar script. All of this work in an easily replicated (and thus hopefully immortalized), indexed, and transmittable fashion. Such record will also include postings I've made here, providing an additional level of insight for the sanity hearings.

I'm excited to see how it will turn out - whether I can recapture the benefits when the painstaking labor detaches to an unbound, ethereal capability. If it is the though that counts, or something about the labor which I unwittingly leave behind. Whatever the case, I need it - I find myself less able to subverbalize to myself an understanding of the fluctuating emotions encountered throughout the day; and if I don't know me, I'm lost.

Lost indeed...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Quixotic Activism

It's easy to get fed up with the current state of X. To laugh at, gripe about, and infuriate over.

Eventually, perhaps, to translate into action - when the desire for change outweighs the fear of involvement and an ideal takes hold.

To point, I despise American politics. The most recent mud-fights over the media inflated fears of the "Asian Bird Flu" really take the cake. Parties claiming that tremendous allocation of resources are required, and should have been done years ago (though they themselves at the time also shared no interest in the topic).

In all of industrialized China, where contact with livestock is far more common and the density of population makes for much easier potential transmission, there have been 2 confirmed cases and 1 suspected - and 2 deaths. Yes, this is a high mortality rate for illness - it also took place in a fairly rural environment where adequate medical care was not available. Weighing these facts against the literal hundreds of millions of potential victims (those in similar circumstances) makes the "outbreak" a laughable drop in a very empty bucket. More deaths occur by automobiles, homicide, suicide, freak accidents, lightning, etc.

None of which are currently high on the list of fear-mongering targets. So why does this factor garner so much of the attention? Why is "pandemic" the buzz word of the month?

Because (and this is my conjectured opinion) those currently in a position of influence fear it. As rich old white guys this is one of the few things in their "immediate environment" they feel they may be able to instill some measure of control over - and have grown accustomed to the other every day risk factors (if we assume congressmen and senators follow the national smoking rate of 20-30%, with an expected 60% mortality rate, we're already talking about more preventable deaths in a very small group than have been attributed to Avian Influenza in the past year in the global population).

This, I think, is disproportionate to the actual needs of the ever-lauded-during-election-year Constituent. I feel the situation rather poignantly highlights the self-serving motivations of a disconnected oligarchy. Other examples include self-proposed and self-approved pay raises, abuses of privilege of office (special treatment/gifts from lobbyists, market connections to inside information), lifelong retirement benefits, etc.

Not to dismiss the fact that some good does come out of the system, but it flounders in so many gross layers of bureaucratic fat that net performance is most probably negative.

Revisiting the topic of lobbyists: an entire industry dedicated to being on the take to those who can afford them, thus gaining informational access (and thus influence) to elected officials, comes across to me as a thinly veiled payola sleight-of-hand amplifying the voices of the rich and famous.

This top meager percentage fails to mobilize and motivate resources effectively (costing too much and taking too long), and has likely never known the challenges faced by those who elected them into office in the first place (I won't go into elections here).

It makes me want to run for office on a clean, low-budget, government reform campaign. Thoughts of the Presidency are even entertained, digging in with rolled-up sleeves to trim the aforementioned fat and make a difference for my fellow man.

Shortly afterward I usually recognize the difficulty of paddling upstream - I might move myself, but the water continues its course oblivious to my sacrificial effort. When can one person make a difference? When is the task too big? By what scope is caring rendered completely ineffectual and all action fruitless? AKA, should I even bother?

Similar perspectives (Man vs. Monolith) can be found in multiple environments: home & family, work, ecosystems, real diseases like HIV/AIDS (or Ebola for that matter), work, etc. Yes I said Work twice. Maybe in trying to push against the boulder one decides to move oneself instead - and quit, divorce, defect, or hermitize.

It is entirely possible that I am an emotional wimp simply looking to conform the world around me to an unrealistic ideal offered up by my own deluded fantasies. It is equally possible that I am responding to a negative impulse delivered by my brain's limbic system to bring my circumstance back in line with a real and recognized status-quo; perhaps even unselfishly.

I'd like to think I can make that distinction, but it hardly matters - the math works out the same.

Maybe I'll stick it to The Man and just move to Canada.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I Hate Sitcoms

Sitcoms (so called "situation comedies") suck.

The men are selfish idiots, the women are vindictive colluders, and lies abound. So much so that dishonesty is often the basic premise of any given plot, covered up through successively outrageous acts until they all reconcile in the last 10 minutes (so that the non-sequential re-run viewing won't have to rely on absolute canon) with little consequence. The general sense of dissatisfaction is still maintained for the next episode.

The suspension of disbelief required to even humor the characters is also intended to make even a mundane, common sense pithy statement come across as profound. Because real insight is probably too expensive.

I'd take a good pie-fight over the typical sitcom - at least there isn't any delusion about more grandiose treatment of the elements of which they're constructed. And meringue is good for cleansing the pallet.

Friday, October 14, 2005

End of Meditation

9 years ago tonight (October 14th) I sat alone in my dimly lit bedroom, cross-legged on the floor with my back against the door (I don't like surprises while I meditate).

This was a time of amazing discipline for me both physically and mentally (emotionally was another story, and has been a focus for the last several years to look after that adolescent deficiency). The level of meditation I regularly achieved was immersive and potent - intimate and poignant reflection in a state of focus and rest completely detached from time and layered against a sense of different space. Even now as I remember it my pulse accelerates, breath deepens, pupils dilate, and I even begin to salivate: responses similar to withdrawal from chemical dependency.

Imagine if you will, an endless and featureless plane stretched out before you. There is no light, though if there were it would be dim and all things only roughly outlined. Eyes here are useless - it is the sense of the plane which matters, and only to serve as a baseline to say "here is this world." Despite the perpetual distance there is also a sense of fall-off where it leaves the mind's eye, where it ceases to be considered because it does not matter.

Upon this plane, sitting in this meditative posture, is the shape of self: myself, yourself - the self of the observer. Again, this is simply isolated shape - inside and outside, separated by a simple barrier to define the boundary and nothing else. The primordial non-light is thicker and darker within this shape, but it too is endless. This shape is the meditative self, only in a familiar physical form because that is how it is imagined, and belongs to this world. Now introduce the first object into this place: a candle.

This is not how my meditation would typically progress - candles are a nice ambiance but didn't provide anything meaningful for me personally. It serves here to illustrate a sensation that I have no other reference to describe.

Ponder the heat of the candle in this place, as it radiates against the skin boundary of that imagined self. The candle is then placed within the self, and the radiance felt from within. The foreign object is nevertheless internalized and incorporated into the awareness of the abstract specter.

Here comes the real kick: change the (still internalized) candle into the radiant shape of another person - a similar sense of self, belonging to another. The stream of subverbalized thought, the depth of emotion and spiritual conviction comprising the conscious essence of the individual, creating an undeniable personal signature. A signature already imprinted on the subconscious of the viewer but only produced to awareness in this specific context.

It's amazing to me what the mind remembers that it never seemed to know before when given an opportunity to explore and a vocabulary with which to speak. In this case, that other signature already is present, but not contemplated or remembered until here.

In this context I would meditate - feeling the hearts and thoughts of those close to me, both in proximity and as entrusted with my affection or confidence. This active and intimate connection takes place on the level of unspoken emotion and bits of spirit, or so it would feel to be. Words take a back-seat as a clumsy and inexact metaphor to frame this much richer world of sensation. Communication takes place, but in a literal heart to heart way (emotion may originate physically in the amygdala, and be expressed via complex endocrine secretions throughout the body, but in this sense of depth "heart" is a very good and very real label for how they can be referenced).

During my meditation on that fateful Monday night something happened. I descended to the state described crudely above, and connected to someone close to me. She and I were in the process of breaking up, actually - but still on good terms. However, something she had said in our conversation earlier that night (on the telephone) hadn't rung quite true with me - that "[I] wasn't ready for [her]." Which is not to say that I did not believe her; rather, in listening closely to subtle verbal cues it sounded as though this was the best way she knew to express a feeling and conclusion for which she had no other words. Perhaps similar to taking a picture of a hologram - some level of detail is lost in the verbal translation. Dissatisfying, but the best she had to work with and that was that.

For her. I was still dissatisfied. Without concrete understanding of the situation, how could I hope to remedy whatever flaw had led to the demise of the relationship? Not between her and I - we had been growing apart for some time. Instead, for the future, for myself as a point of growth. Also to achieve closure in general and not leave the unresolved taste in my mouth; I needed to know. I still have difficulty letting go of unresolved questions like this.

The connection with her was immersive, as always. Tender and honest - there is no other way it can be done - and unique. There was, this time, an extra edge to the reality of the experience, a raw element of energy playing in a pseudo-physical aire. Continuing to abuse the visualization laid out above, the plane became filled her essence. Thought and emotion ran together to create shapes in a spatial display to make the complex environ navigable. I found the conscious thought stream, and felt her pondering on the things of that night as I had been. I prodded - she knew I was there, and that this was part of my way - this was not an unfamiliar intrusion, as we had similarly been effused many times before. The interjections I made were to steer in the direction of the feeling she had voiced. A question of, "what exactly was it [she] felt?"

Her frustration at the incomplete expression surfaced, and I retreated to show understanding - not out of the connected experience, but from the prodding. Indicating I had no wish to cause distress but rather to understand, and she needn't attempt to define the motivation: only show it to me, if she could. More relaxed, she continued. Just around the bend of thought I felt it coming, that elusive and nuanced article.

None of this represents the strangeness of that evening, and so far is par for this form of meditation. The strange thing happened next: something hit me, almost tangibly.

It was as though a voice had been speaking the whole time in the background, unheard until the volume increased and/or proximity decreased. I felt it move from ahead of me and to my left to directly before my imagined face, and heard as it did so, "...and this is over." It came across as a stern reprimand with startling (but not violent) finality, and immediately upon hearing the words I found myself as I was - sitting on the floor of the room with my back to the door, and nearly an hour's time passed. The voice had not felt like hers.

I could not reestablish the connection. Nor the next night. Other's around me began to take notice as I failed to have my typically projected presence around me (on the plus side, I could sneak up on them again). Even J, a friend skeptical of the whole process, was forced to proclaim, "Dude - your brain's like Swiss cheese!" Indeed, I felt broken.

Eventually I reclaimed a minor measure of the same control - but the candle has never been within me since. I can see it afar, feel its radiant warmth, but never bond or connect internally. There is a bitterness hanging over the imposed distance, and I feel robbed.

There were too many experiences throughout the 5 years of developing the talent for me to dismiss this all as a fanciful trick of my mind in creating a spatialized reference of imagined (or remembered from the subconscious from previous interaction) content. Too many active examples, some with documentation; most, however, difficult to put to those terms.

I have no glass to raise in remembrance. No ritual of mourning or moment of silence. This is the first homage I've paid to it with any energy. Recalling it has been both painful and intoxicating. Mostly painful.

I long to touch it all again.

Is this fiction? Leave your comments.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dispelling Notions of a Misunderstood Genius

The Harry Potter books are wildly successful throughout the world in large part because the title character with which the reader is intended to identify possesses some tremendous capabilities not yet fully revealed, and surprising even to himself. This foreshadowed greatness, rather than creating a weight of responsibility and expectation of equally great burdens, instead focuses on the "hey, look how awesome it will be" factor.

This taps very directly into a typically under-developed sense of personal potential in the reader. Especially in the United States, where the conflicting cultures of "you can do anything you put your mind to" and the mundane reality of "would you like fries with that" create an unresolved inner belief that one is destined for greater things than "this" (current circumstance); and thus never fully accepting the present reality, but detaching, dissociating, and responding with great frustration until much of it collapses unsupported by daily care and attention.

These impressions of unfettered success waiting to be discovered are compounded and artificially inflated by a national preoccupation with celebrity and the massive success of those already well acquainted with privilege. The inner turmoil arising from an inability to reconcile the reaching for stars with the feet on the ground often lead to the middle-management whining and passive-aggressive behaviors so commonly found in the work place; illustrated be the defining points A.2, A.5 and A.6 from the *DSM-IV (TR):

  • (2) complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
  • (5) expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
  • (6) voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune

These (among the other points in the same text) create a self-reinforcing perspective of buried greatness, the fulfillment of which is continually deferred. Not wanting to be the reason for the perceived failure (amplified in weight disproportionately high even to the exaggerated concepts of potential), the blame (and often proposed impetus for resolution) is pushed firmly on to others. In its most developed form, any attempted aspiration is also sabotaged by the aspirer in order to maintain the un-happy status quo wherein the identity now lay, and responsibility is still firmly beyond the horizon.

This post is about the mythical genius though, so I'll get back to that.

This desire then, to see oneself as phenomenal (even if unfulfilled or unsupported by evidence, and if not descending into the passive-aggressive behavior pattern) can cause an incompetence expressed in the confidence of the individual so-believing. This person is then unable to see the possible drawbacks of his or her proposed plans of action, feels exempted from the mundane rules (created for "others" to follow), and finds ways of twisting perception of nearly any outcome into a success - which measure of success may often in reality come "in spite of" rather than "because of" the decisions which were made. Give them a little financial backing or relationships to a few connections in "the biz" (whichever "the biz" it my be) and voila: incompetent leadership in prominent and visible positions reinforcing the lot of the stereotypes outlined here (to which I will also add the belief that one need not actually do anything / exert effort to achieve such success).

Genuine successes do exist, with examples of astounding capability untempered by formal training: musical genius of previous centuries (Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky [less recognized in this capacity because he was celebrated somewhat in his own life time, but this can be discussed later]), touted contemporary intelligence in science (Sagan, Eintstein, Hawking), the celebrated savant (a la "Rainman") where supposedly latent mental capacity is brought to light. These extremely rare circumstances do exist.

However, mistaking desire for capacity, and uninhibited confidence for success, do not a savant make. I do firmly believe that most success is as a result of the hard work of those who achieve it, over many many long years of toil. I also believe one must know and recognize inherent limitations and struggle to overcome the same as opposed to deferring to another path still intent on finding that buried genius (for example, believing that some other easy path of little resistence will still yield the unbridled capacity for greatness).

I need to recognize and remember this as much as anyone. Much of my life I've not had to work hard at the acquisition of talent - the environment in which I was raised presented ample opportunity for self-actualization with exposure to sciences, the arts, good literature, and imagination. However, this will only carry me so far - the extents to which I have become much better acquainted in recent years. I'd rather not be satisfied with the limitations as I've encountered them, but I will not be able to easily dismiss or circumvent them. I must better myself through concerted effort in formal education to advance and improve one small step at a time until the hurdles are overcome and I can stand victorious. Much patience, much time and effort. Hopefully with great return.

Wiser people than I have made mistakes I should be learning from - otherwise I, and most all the world, will at best be gifted amateurs.

*p.791 - "Research criteria for passive-aggressive personality disorder": American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Beating the Heat

Once while visiting my hypnotherapy mentor I heard a brief question posed to him in the hall-way outside his office. This as he departed, so I unfortunately didn't hear the answer he provided though I'm almost certain I know what it would have contained in principle.

Outside the atmosphere sizzled at 100 degrees at the time, and had been for days on end with barely any breeze - the stifling air sat oppressively over everything. At least it was a dry heat.

The question related directly to this: "Hey Clark, could you hypnotize someone so they wouldn't feel the heat?"

The answer from a functional perspective is of course Yes - this would be a fairly simple suggestion and task that the sub-conscious would be particularly receptive too. The continuation to this though is that it's a suggestion which shouldn't be entertained regardless of the relief it would bring.

Pain, discomfort, and negative psychological pressure together serve a very important purpose in the protection and preservation of both mind and body. Protection is in fact the primary motivation of the subconscious, coupled with its uncanny knack for automation of simple activity and behavior.

In this case the discomfort resulting from heat acts as a warning flag to care for the body by reducing exposure, hydrating, and relaxation. If this warning were to be overridden the threshold before damage and discomfort would normally become severe would be far more likely to be breached through a course of activity obliviously pursued. The discomfort should remain to draw attention where appropriate so course corrections can be made and the matter resolved instead of potentially exacerbated.

I'm sure his response was less technically oriented and very kindly worded into something else. After all, responding negatively to one request is not nearly as powerful a psychological communication tool as placing positive emphasis on a proposed alternate. I would have like to hear what his alternate was - this is an area I could still use much improvement.

I have much I would like to say regarding the positive nature of pain in providing attention and focus to its origins. Bad habits arise to do this, as well as to provide outlet for negative pressures or because the derived pleasure out-weighs the negative consequences (which then potentially continue to build until expressed through other seemingly unrelated avenues). However, I can't seem to get the ideas straight in my mind in any pre-compositional organization. I'm taking this to mean that I haven't yet internalized it in a sufficient way to articulate it to others. I have it solidified on the abstract spatial side, but haven't broached into the logical hemisphere to complete the picture in a way to express it linguistically.

Something I'll have to keep working on, since this is one of the primary areas I would like my hypnotherapy client education material to focus on.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Origins of Conceit

As a child, I was granted by my peers the cruelest title they had available: Different. There were of course many appendages to this in the form of the classic Nerd, Geek, and so on. I must also admit a great deal of accuracy in these observations: received my first pair of glasses (thick black plastic rims) for myopia in Kindergarten, had a much greater than average interest in the exactness of all things and accuracy of statements, and diminished physical capacity. Orthodontia starting in grade 2 represented no small contribution (before the onset of which I was also the proud owner of an extra and malformed toot - perfectly conical fang, dead center). I would also rather read than play, and carried sophisticated (for the age) discourse with adults rather than my immediate peers.

This does not in any way presume maturity since the emotional development was not apace with the presumed intellect, nor could it be - the amygdala, the portion of the limbic system of the brain responsible for the formation and execution of both complex and intense emotional and social manifestations, does not achieve significant development until adolescence - also the reason teens are so volatile, generally. My behavior then was in part a shadow or a mimicry of those whom I desired to emulate - given that I was incapable of forming the truly deep connections from the activity (which is not to say that children cannot, as they do with their parents, but without the time and context required the bonds are incapable of forming as a matter of daily course). Despite this I called the behavior distinctly mine and began to accept the nature of the differences.

The simplest path to accomplish this acceptance was to assume I was smarter than everyone else. Add to this the general counsel as applied by parents consoling their bully-saturated child (something to the effect of non-retaliation meaning "you're better than they are") and the environment easily skews to reinforce the artificial superiority.

Pride can be damaged, or forced to be abandoned or swallowed. Ego can be bruised. But conceit - no, conceit transcends these self-inflicted inflations to become a shielding neurosis. Epithets are easily deflected by assessing their slinger as inferior, knowing that the naive moron is surely missing the point of it all and must be pitied. Or, that their incapacity is so great, they must simply be ignored as there is no hope for them.

None of this heals a bruise, mind you, or retrieves instrument cases from ditches or scattered papers from a hillside. Or un-bends orthodontic headgear - that was a fun one.

Owning these differences also created a very real chasm in association with others. Pride and boasting in nerdliness is simply the adoption of a form of identity like any other, but as one of the social outliers it denies familiarity - reduced though it may be in children. This hurt a great deal and led to aberrant actions. So great was my desire to connect with others that I would go to great lengths to impress the few who I considered my audience. In the same month I won the school-wide "Student of the Month" I had also unscrupulously acquired much of the combined display of crystals and geological artifacts the class had assembled as a companion to recent lessons (this at age 8).

This did not improve over time, no affection was won, and the social distances increased as did the violence visited upon me. The intellect was recognized and fostered and blossomed, but the awkwardness was simply dismissed as a typical attendant of my disposition.

Eventually I did pull out of it all and put myself on a track with which I was satisfied and left no great unsatisfied drives which could would to inappropriate action. I worked to bridle my ego and removed conceit by striving to understand my fellow man in all circumstances, assuming equal footing as a baseline in my relationship with all - both elevating the repressed and diminishing the haughty to a common level of assumed humanity. This outlook started to take hold in mid High School years, and has been cultivated since through my studies of psychology and my own self exploration.

I treasure where I am now and feel well served by my attitudes and the precepts which guide me. But for many partially wasted years I insisted on both maintaining and suffering the chasm of my early youth in autoimposed (not that I could see it that way) imprisonment. While I do feel pangs of resentment and regret (the deep bitterness tempered by time and the aforementioned understanding), one must always ponder when looking back - would I be the person I am today if not for these things? Could I have achieved the wisdom I may hold now without the challenges and trials, failures and successes, unique to these experiences? Probably not - I'm not that smart. What will I think in successive decades of similar review of where I am now?

Sorry to wax semi-nostalgic here. These are musings for now - action is still in ponderance; especially as I now watch the growth of my own children.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Tired, tired, tired, tired, dead.

The worst of the project (which has prevented me from posting regularly for the last 2 months) is finally over. Only a few issues remain, and none of them as painful as any of those which were uncovered during an immature roll-out.

There is no fanfare, no great celebration - I have been able to extract from the execusphere that some form of reward is in the works, but nothing upon which they will disclose or even would like to hint at. This is more information than they wish the troops to have even, which is asinine. We've already lost one high-class engineer to all of this, and I am absolutely certain others are eyeing the door and moving that direction with varying amounts of haste.

My average clock-out time for the last 2 weeks of this was 2am, always starting the next day's work by 9. Monday through Saturday (only had to be "on-call" Sundays).

Even though I've scaled back rather tremendously from those standards to a meager 55 hour week, I'm still exhausted. Near the end I fell ill, probably due to weakened immune system, and haven't slept well since (still on-call, which is used). I'm making simple decisions slowly, can't recall as much, and am probably going to make some large mistakes.

At least it's a 3 day weekend, and "weekend" applies this time.

Enough whining for now.

The extension to all of this is that sleep makes a phenomenal difference - a fact I've already been aware of as the lucky recipient of the Sleep Disorder Lottery. Together with hydration this pair is probably the most crucial and frequently overlooked area in managing energy, health, fitness, and dietary effectiveness.

There are many things I'd like to think I'm good at - but after one or two nights like this they disappear. This is true of everyone, though I don't know how many are really aware of it - how can one objectively assess one's own condition when judgement is impaired?

I look forward to the dawn when I can awake rested. Everyone deserves a good night's sleep.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Invading My Dreams

"I don't dream [very often]." Many have used this phrase, and most are wrong in doing so. The vast majority of people enter into the signature REM sleep which twists fantasies in front of the mind's eye - however, the nuerophysiology of this sleep state deactivates the short-term memory, rendering the imagery unlikely to be remembered unless A) one wakes up in the middle or B) the subject matter has more to do with the long term memory storage, thus creating associative patterns with an anchor.

In my case, I have a non-specific (meaning the medical profession is currently unable to diagnose the cause for) sleep disorder, causing multiple waking episodes during the night - a couple dozen, in fact. Consciousness is not well formed in these instances, such that I do not remember them and did not know about them until they were on the readout in front of me (though I've long felt the resultant crippling fatigue). This disturbs my REM, fracturing it into brief spikes scattered across the night. Without contiguance, it's exceptionally rare for me to catch anything from this alternate realm of imagination.

This is the reason why, when I do catch something, it becomes very meaningful for me as a sign of both normalcy and perhaps a poignant glimpse into my own nature.

One of the dream themes I've encountered is attempting to rank in a beautiful dojo of deadly arts. Imperial Chinese construction with Japanese themes, the dojo is a combination of interior and exterior settings - the most memorable of which is a stone courtyard with large vibrant-red pillars supporting a translucent sun-roof over the open walls. Surrounded with beautifully tended garden landscape the setting belies the intention - that I am there to die, or by preventing that demise aspire to new heights.

Coming to this place has meant the vanquishing of many an opponent in lower ranks and less extreme circumstances. It is now, in facing an advocate of the O-Sensei Sama (generically, meaning "The Master", not the actual O-Sensei Sama of Howard O. Davis of Kishindo with which I am acquainted in waking-space), that I am to prove whether I have truly owned and embodied the wisdom and strength of the art or be destroyed - or at least broken and sent away from the grown-up table, to rebuild myself and try again. I do not believe I have ever faced the mythical master of the place - it doesn't feel like it, at any rate, and that's enough for me to call it fact in this pretense.

Still "a" Master though, and the combat is dreadfully fierce. The subconscious, which has been a more keen and uninhibited observer of physicality than myself, aids the conjuring of this ultra-real and yet impossible choreography. The feel of bone against bone, the minor yield of toned muscle under blows, and the intense production of adrenaline to move ever faster and more powerfully, are all beautifully and viscerally presented in the lucid experience.

The battle has never concluded. Or at least, the war has not - many battles have been waged. I have dreamed in this wise several times over the last half-dozen years that I can recall.

The meaning to me is easily apparent: I fear that I am potentially weak in both my convictions and my personal or professional skills, or that my best effort may be appraised as weakness by others. To overcome this insecurity I apply (a perhaps unhealthy) vigilance to excel so that even if I am still just winging it, I'm the best at doing so and can stand vindicated having conquered the challenge. The hidden master driving this event is most likely myself.

However, 2 nights ago: the end of the first day of my vacation after an unpleasant string of near all-nighters at work, the context of the dream changed. It was not in the beautiful dojo, but more mundane but unrecognizable circumstance. The setting's conflict was no longer an honorable battle to prove personal self worth, but a literal and direct challenge of my worthiness as an individual - a question of, "Do you deserve to be here?" The Master presenting the challenge was not the typical distant figure veiled in mystery, but a real individual with whom I now work directly - an adversary, but not a master of any principles to which I subscribe. I did not attack (which has always been at least a nice back-and-forth in the typical scenario). I was instead being presented challenges to overcome.

In one, I was told to slay a ferocious beast - cat-like, probably a panther of sorts but light in color. I was given directly as a resource a half-skeletonized carcass (which also appeared catlike, and was blue). Which was, for some reason, still alive though a portion of the pelvic structure was exposed and looked sun-bleached. This was delivered to me in an open-topped cardboard box, covered in an lacy (large, open holes in the design) small white throw-blanket. My first order was to dispatch the miserable creature to put it out of its misery - I drew my sword (Japanese katana, single edged and slightly curved blade), and holding it point-outstretched with the blade up found a good insertion point between the ribs and lightly slid the blade into the body to destroy lungs and heart. Gruesome, but merciful in the dream. Probably in real life, too.

The target beast came and attacked the carcass after I stood back. I probed for an attack, still holding the blade in an up-turned thrust position, but could not feel comfortable with any of the vectors I could manage, so turned to a downward cut. Almost a chop, really - I wouldn't get close enough for a traditional draw-cut (the maneuver which leverages the curve and from which the legendary cutting power of the katana emanates), so only the very outer length of the blade was used. The animal was also low to the surface (this was, I believe, taking place on a bed at this point for some odd reason) so I didn't have much follow-through. This led to an only slightly injured and subsequently frightened and very angry large animal with many pointy bits.

I should mention here that throughout this I am completely un-armored.

I had not withdrawn from my initial cut, and so leaned deeply on the sword and began to saw. The cat was crouched onto its left shoulder, ears flattenend and mouth wide in fighting flight. It could not bring its right forepaw around for batting attack before the cut began to find purchase and blood flowed freely out as the wound widened and neck began to separate. During this last portion I either transposed feeling with the animal (which really did contain no sentience) or became aware of its physical sensations in an extra sensory fashion, because I felt that vibrant unfettered life drain darkly away into a cold black fog of unfeeling - and then gone.

I turned away from the scene and proceeded about the area. There are a few other informational encounters as I do so, though I do not now remember what they revealed. I simply remember talking with others, and occasionally wondering what the next battle with the actual adversary was going to be like, remembering the honorable encounters from dreams (reality, here) past. I met with my wife, and was speaking with her when her eyes reacted to something behind me and she began to make a sound (which I for some reason associate with an "O" or "oo" sound, even though it was not quite uttered). At this same time my surreal senses became aware of this Adversary descending on me (through the air) with his similar sword drawn and held vertically in front of his body in a descending slice. This would cleave me cleanly in half if not countered.

I drew my sword from my back over the right shoulder and spun to hold it also vertically in front of me, though higher - the base of the blade at collarbone height - and slightly angled back toward me in a defensive posture. While doing this I spun to face him, all in the smallest fraction of an instant.

In the physical world, I had been sleeping turned mostly faced down, and during the dream here awoke spinning counter-clockwise onto my back whilst bringing my hands down in front in the same high-on-guard defensive position. This was just before the moment of impact between the blades.

I lay there facing the ceiling with my heart pounding from the sudden endocrine surge, thinking equal parts about the dream which had led to the reaction, how cool the reaction itself was (for a somewhat pasty and currently very out-of-shape Software Development Director to still have some ninja-esque reflexes), and noting that I had never been awoken in such fashion. I've had a few little foot-jerks or something here and there to stop me from stumbling - basically other purely reflexive actions - but nothing out of a combat setting. I was a little geeked out thinking about the underlying neuroscience and psychology, and feeling pretty cool about my bad/wicked (derivative of jazz "bad" = "cool") performance.

The new meaning is also apparent. Though my adversary inhabits a position I respect, I do not maintain trust for him directly and see the requested challenges as a compromise of my personally important virtues despite being able to fulfill them.

This is something I've noticed about dreams: they'll tell me what I feel, but not what to do about it. This offers good feminine-style commiseration and validation, but none of the masculine-style immediate "plan of action." I feel a confirmation of previously vague and unexpressed emotion, but I have no idea what to do about it.

It's something I'll have to ponder on the remainder of my vacation.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wacky Mr. Cruise

It's no secret that Tom Cruise has been making a bit of a fool of himself lately. Not necessarily for what he projects, but the emphatic urgency with which he does so in dismissal of all other views and possibilities.

It is not a bad thing to hold a belief, or to maintain that belief as the sole truth of the matter. I do this myself - my convictions in my religious affiliations are firm and in my mind irrefutable; all truth is ascribed into the whole of understanding, all else is bunk. It is my opinion that much of what others put forth is uninformed nonsense or otherwise false outright. However, given the inherent subjective nature of the mortal experience there's no way I can make that proclamation and expect it to have any governance over others. Nor would I presume to do so - a path of belief must be chosen, not dictated; otherwise it lacks supporting faith. There are also degrees of truth, and it is possible for portions of truth to exist in those alternate views which should be appreciated in that light.

This is (I hope) a departure from Cruise's assertion that not only are all others wrong to him, they are wrong overall and he (Tom) should be accepted as a sole authority. This eliminates any potential merit in the non-Tom arguments and presents a closed mind. That closed and inflexible position is easily perceived as a blind mania with a touch of psychosis - especially when a more even tempered response can contain the same content without the impatience or bigotry.

Now to the meat: Tom's recent proclamation that, "There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance."

Were this the case, of course, then mental health would be unaffected by any application of substances attempting to disrupt it and so drugs (recreational or pharmaceutical) wouldn't be of any concern anyway. I'm assuming he intended additional context, such as, "There is no such thing as a psychological malady that is the direct result of a chemical imbalance." This would make a lot more sense, so I'll assume this is his statement in order to have something to dissect instead of being utterly ridiculous.

The mainstream western media culture would have us believe that even if it comes down to the point that it really is all in your head, it's still not your fault and if you take this little special and Brand Name pill it can make things better. Really. Ask your Dr. about Brand Name, and the world will be a better place for you. This applies to allergies, sleep aids, heart-burn & acid reflux, anti-social fears and anxieties, depression, etc.

I'll agree that this is certainly overmarketed, and continues the concept of problems being some(one/thing) else's direct influence. Shades of truth - or rather, truth intermixed with marketing. But to swing to the opposite side still places one completely off base - simply on the other side of it. A balance of truth must be sought.

Chemical imbalances do exist, and can result from multiple sources:
  1. Natural imbalance based on genetics or environmental factors
  2. Hormonal influences resulting from situational influences or physical changes
  3. Long-term depression, anxiety, or psychosis
In cases 1 and 2, yes these are most certainly out of the range of personal choice and influence. In case 3, they started out as something else and have since grown into that same position (of being outside of personal choice and control). In any case, the imbalance now interferes with natural operation and must be dealt with - and even if the underlying factors can be immediately addressed, there is a degree of inertia requiring time to adjust the chemistry and any ancillary supporting pathways (i.e., habits of thought or action emerging in association with said factor that reinforce the negative effects).

Medication can be applied as an effective management tool to reduce the immediate negative impact of the imbalance, which allows time dissociated from the harsh difficulty of impaired function to undergo the analysis and appropriate therapies (which may include additional medication and chemical treatment) to eliminate the causal factors. Once established on proper footing, if possible, the medication can be reduced and normal operations resumed.

Yes, most imbalances are the result of no. 3 above and can be averted - but only if the individual experiencing the problem can maintain the personal objective awareness of self & environment. Most people are not equipped with the learning and expertise to do that: we live in a strange, stressful world of unchartable stresses and influences, and personal ownership of mental health is not a highly emphasized priority.

Are we an overmedicated society? Yes. Is that medication often used to mask problems rather than resolve them? Yes; teens put on Prozac(tm) in some cases descend further into their symptoms and may become suicidal as a direct result. These tragic facts do not dismiss the great benefit that is also possible. Pretty much any situation is ripe for abuse, but that doesn't mean that positive elements should be dismissed solely on that argument: baby with the bathwater, and all that.

To point, Cruise's lambasting of Brooke Shields for disclosing her use of anti-depressants should be an embarrassment to him. Women in general have a much higher sensitivity to the effects of the emotional hormones secreted by body and brain, and therefore represent on average a much higher level of both stress and strength than can be found in men. It is easy for men to resist the emotional impact of events and associations because they genuinely (not without exception) lack the capacity to experience it the same way and to the same depth that women do. Recap: women are more prone to displaying emotional effects, but not disproportionately so based on the extra level of sensitivity they similarly represent; if anything, women are far stronger in this arena.

Add to that the hormonal effects of pregnancy and birth, the new conscious responsibilities for a precious life of infinite potential, and the world turns upside down very very quickly. Takes a while to get it sorted back out.

Let Tom take estrogen for a while, and then simulate the massive serotonin drop that comes with the additional hormonal changes of pregnancy and delivery and we'll see how he does. Walk a mile in those shoes.

But then, that would be altering your brain chemistry.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bad brain! Drop it!

This morning at about 4:30, I awoke to the persistent nagging of my brain.

Before going to bed, I'd been doing some pretty intense Java review - since I haven't been doing that much hands-on in the coding realm lately, and I need to stay loose technologically (especially since I'm one of the largest advocates for the Java re-implementation of our current legacy code base).

During that though, I was drafting up and illustrative example of one of the principles I really wanted to make sure I had down solid: and it utterly refused to work. For probably the better part of 40 minutes I off-and-on wrestled with the problem and the environment, tweaking both in a vain attempt to get it functional, and researching online to see what might be contributing to the behaviour I was seeing and couldn't reconcile based on my own experience.

Eventually I gave up, and decided to come back to it later. My brain decided that "later" meant 0430 hours on July 6th 2005. I refused to wake all the way though, and held on to the minor groggy delirium I believed was somehow still capable of contributing to the accrual of rest. Inside that fog I couldn't get the code out of my head - it was played back in most of the various iterations I had attempted, all with the identical undesired outcome.

Finally, it pointed out one little miss-placed word. Something that should have been a common error and easily resolved, but was overlooked because the byte code compilation worked without a hitch. It was being exposed in error-form as a fairly generic message, free from the actual context because of the nature of the misplacement (which was attempting to descend into a non-existent client method). Upon recognizing this, I immediately knew the solution and quickly fed that back into cerebral playback loop.

Which it simply accepted and added to its own feed and still wouldn't let me go.

I could have woken up enough to go downstairs and try it out in an effort to pacify myself. Heck, I could have logged onto the wifi with my Palm from the bed and done it via ssh. I refused to be that awake though, and still clung to that stupor as a refuge from consciousness until I managed to drift off for 1/2 an hour more sleep before getting up at 6.

Whereupon I promptly went downstairs, verified the corner condition that produced the error through an independent test, implemented the visualized correction (which worked) and was satisfied with a job well done.

Odd, though; I hadn't thought the unsolved problem to be that important. Maybe the duration of concentration had something to do with it?

Either way, next time I'm just going to go to the stupid computer and fix it. I'll probably get more sleep that way (assuming I go back to bed afterward, properly purged, and haven't [via the new solution] opened up so many creative possibilities that I end up with massive brainstorms). Weird stuff, that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dream Job

I'd like to think I'm very good at what I do in the IT field, as a Director/Manager/Architect of Software Development (I don't do that much developing anymore, but know my stuff).

The industry's been rough, though. While my current position is, for lack of a better word, stable, I've gone through a tumultuous history to get there as several other companies became insolvent. I'll spare the full history as I know one of my buddies is already rolling his eyes. It would help though, Mike, if you didn't constitute 50% of my readership and thus wield an enormous amount of clout in shaping the content of my entries.

Hmph.

Anywhoo, before the current gig came along I could see the approaching end of the previous one and started off in a different direction entirely: hypnotherapy. Hypnosis itself is something I've had an interest in since High School, and had even drafted up some of my own highly effective inductions prior to this serious entry in the field. I've had a natural tendency toward therapeutic counseling and psychological analysis for as long as I can remember too. It was a natural step for me to find a mentor in a good educational program and fork over the cash to start the certification process.

I was whipping through the courses, and was just coming up on the Master Hypnotist completion when the job finished falling through and I needed to start in on something else with a higher immediate return on the cash-flow. That's where the current place comes in.

Starting at the new job and all (this is November of 2003) I applied myself full-force to be able to establish myself and truly p0w|\| the arena - there's no reason to do the job poorly after all, especially when it's sustaining the family. But that level of effort hasn't pulled back at all - to the contrary, it's continued to increase. Only recently have I been able to rein it in from the 60-70 hour work week standard to a more respectable 55 on average. It's left me so drained though that I've never completed the master hypnotist cert, and thus have not moved on to the theory and application of therapeutic processes through the medium of hypnosis. I still have all the course material sitting here next to me, but lack the time and energy to complete it: especially now that almost every step in the course requires quite a lot of practice, which would mean coordinating with some test subjects. These aren't hard to find, but getting schedules to match up slows the process down.

Getting back to the intent of this entry, I would love to do this for a living. I've made some choices in the last 6 months so as to have financial requirements out of reach of the average hypnotherapist in the region, so it wouldn't be tenable unless I augmented the income by drafting software for use in the industry or the like (which I would naturally be doing for my own practice as well).

Or - and here's the really juicy part - unless I was writing as well. Doing part-time novel writing combined with part-time hypnotherapy in order to explore two of the niftiest things I've ever dabbled in, and still getting to say good-bye to the rat race. THAT's the most satisfying arrangement I can think of.

Step 1: Get a little more free time.
Step 2: Make some progress on A) writing and B) hypno-certs (mesmerizing breath-mints?)
Step 3: Produce like mad.
Step 4: Self sufficiency.

The procrastination for the perfect incarnation of Step 1 has killed me for the last year. It will continue to do so if I allow it, so I have to rethink it. I've got a 4 day weekend coming up, so I'll bang my noodler against that for a while and see what I come up with.

And that's the useless whining I have today. Maybe I should add:

Step 5: Go to Toshi station for pwr. converters

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Something that Matters

Days like today drain from me the energy with focus, because the only way to get through it is to put all available focus on the constant stream of work to prevent the back-log from building up. I think I ended the day net equal - I didn't end with any new outstanding tasks, but I traded that off with not getting anything done on the long-term scale. So I still have the back-log, but at least it didn't get any larger.

That's what tomorrow's for, with an off-site meeting all day to go over one of the Next Big Projects. In doing that, I'll completely neglect the regular operational maintenance of the day and have to get through it the day after.

To the point of the subject line, the energy is so far spent - almost purely at a mental level - that I find myself feeling lethargic and even pained. Not muscularly sore, but so depleted as to have nothing meaningful left. My chest literally hurts under the aftermath of this kind of through-the-wringer stress.

I have Friday off though, which I'm sure will help me recover to some degree. But it still leaves me wondering, where can meaning be found when I'm incapable of creating it for myself? It's not going to be found online, or falling into my lap. Which means I have 2 choices - suffer through it, or go do something about it.

I'll do what I can, because that's a part of my personal philosophy. It'll still hurt, but at least I'll feel justified in having done all I can to better my own situation.

Even if it kills me.

Sincerely,

The Whiner.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Pictures of a Dead Man

My wife is a wedding photographer. She has a wonderful innate talent that's startling to behold, but difficult for her to explain. So far as she knows, she just takes pictures as the situation warrants and the opportunity presents.

I've always admired graphic design and photography. I took several classes toward this vocation back in the day, and have a fair idea of how it all works and what it takes. I lack ability though, having no gift in the realm. Like the quote from the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: "At last I realized I had taste, and style; but not talent." I can tell my wife exactly what makes her pictures good, all the various contributing elements and how they combine to create the overall impression within the image itself.

At which point she shrugs, and goes back to taking pictures.

Not to sound cheesy, but it at least allows me to see the world through her eyes in a very literal way.

She shot a wedding about 4 weeks ago, and has just finished all the post production work (special effects, retouching, color proofing, etc.). 2 days before these were scheduled to go to the printer, she was informed by the mother of the bride that her son (obviously the brother of the bride) had committed suicide the weekend before.

They seem to be handling it well, though it certainly does have a large impact on their lives. He's had drug trouble in the past, and where he was in life did not allow him to see personal value through the veil of mistakes and guilt that was ever present on his mind. With people getting married around him, and happiness abounding in social association, this turned inward with the low esteem to the thought of "Who would ever want me?" This was left behind in his journals.

We did some final retouching, and not yet beknownst to the family (unless they're reading this) I spent another 2 1/2 hours after the fact finding the best pictures with him in them and doctoring the extraction to get the best composition. We didn't do a lot of individual portraiture of the attendees (only the bride and groom, I'm afraid) but he was in a few family pictures. Being digital, and only taking up a little bit of the space, he was not represented in sufficient resolution to be enlarged much. I did what I could, but even at 4"x6" it's still going to be obviously over-blown from what the level of detail should support.

But these are the last real pictures that were taken of him; human decency dictate that I use whatever means necessary to try and make the most of that for the family. It sounds small, and perhaps it is; they don't even know me, the few I've been introduced to probably wouldn't even remember my name. I can't give them anything more: I don't know them, don't know the deceased, and can't gauge the impact of any other gesture. I'm offering a slightly clearer memory from the immediate past of something highly prized and now gone. Does the thought count? Hopefully. I can scarcely fathom the void this has left for them.

With so many ambiguous and contextually sensitive pronouns in the last 2 paragraphs, it's apparent to me that the text isn't flowing. This means I should stop for now; this is appropriate, that it should be to linger at this stage of the thought. Abrupt, and unfinished, without satisfying resolution; but having done what I could.

If you happen to be a family member or know the deceased, unlikely though it is that anyone from such a small connected sphere should stumble across this, I mean no disrespect by bearing this in the open. No personally revealing information has been provided despite the potentially intimate tone. However, if you find this at all disquieting please contact me and I'll edit or remove this post from circulation.

paul@paultomlinson.net

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Woops!

I had a nice, long, draft to put up here tonight. I found myself drifting from the intended "Time for a Mid-Life Crisis" topic though, into dangerous territory. I'll probably post it some time in the future, but it introduces too many elements in my environment that are toxic to its well-being.

I need that environment, so I'll hang on to it in the back of things until a later time.

I sneezed into my hankerchief and it made an MTV logo. Want to see it?

Fine, I didn't want to show you anyway!

- Paul

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Chafing

Some people really rub me the wrong way. This surprises and unnerves me, because one of my primary goals in my conduct is to understand the reasoning and motivations of those I associate with. Doing so allows me to review the activities and reactions of that individual in the context of the environment as he or she is aware of it.

This does not mean I agree with that person, become an apologetic for them or allow my position of intended reasonable-ness to be trampled in the event that the person is unreasonable. It is to allow me a justified detachment of "this is what this person thinks and why," which alleviates an immediate perplexion of, "how can a person possibly assert this view or action in a sane universe?" This latter question has the "sane universe" construct which maps to my own relative perspective in similar fashion.

A person then, in this approach, becomes an encapsulated entity in the manner that they are inserted into my own comprehension and excused from knowing how to operate therein effectively. In exchange, I allow the person his or her own idiosyncrasies and dismiss the related weird manifestations as the ramblings of an individual with these particular oddities.

This typically works, everyone gets to be themselves, and I feel comfortable in my judgment and treatment of others.

Despite this though, some people really bother me. I'm not hard to get along with, and still make the effort, but in some instances I find myself unable to attain that professional separation from the annoyances. Most likely in this case it is because there will be fall out from the object behavior that will affect me; an example being a new boss with passive-aggressive tendencies who has a hand in shaping my professional environment.

I feel a direct structural impact to the world I inhabit as a result of something that I would normally be sheltered from. I could bridge this gap through additional detachment from the environment, but that puts me in a reactive position to buffer a potentially unreasonable assertion from them and abandons something to which I'm attached. It would be easy if I didn't care, but I like the environment and team I've been constructing and I don't want it fussed with.

All the same, in this case I think abandonment is in my favor anyway. I wonder what the next environment will be like?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Hey - that's my money!

People are stupid. Hopefully I'm bright enough to realize that this statement also applies to myself and keep a look-out for some inane action before I compromise anything of importance. I doubt it - after all, one of the hallmarks of incompetence is the inability to recognize it in oneself. So I can, not being able to know, relax and focus instead on the stupidity of others.

They tried to steal my money. Not that much - only about USD $3,500. Nothing earth shattering, but certainly enough to be an inconvenience. This was done on the sole credit card I have to my name - which, fortunately for me, I keep at a $1,000 limit and have no plans of expanding. There were 2 attempted fraudulant charges, both well beyond the actual cap that I maintain regardless of the fact that I already had $200 on the thing anyway.

But still, quite the inconvenience to find out about this when I try to gas up on the way home. I have gotten rather used to the convenience of swiping the little plastic for just about everything (which then drafts off the general ledger according to my accounting). That night I received a call asking if the 2 large charge attempts at an out-of-state jewelry (an easily liquidated item) store were mine, making me aware of the reason for the malfunction at the pump. Cancel the cards, get them replaced, and life is good until it happens again.

We know where our cards are at all times. We do very limited shopping on line, and that under close technical scrutiny - I've programmed these systems myself for long enough to know what I'm doing an that Inter-web thing. So how did they get the number? I can think of a few different ways.

Easiest: have a dishonest employee copy it off the receipts. Happens all the time, I'm sure. Sell this on the underground to distance yourself from the trail, and make a little cash on the side.

Next in line: Cracked online database - similar to above. We try to make sure that the vendors we patronize do not retain this information, but I don't trust any of them 100%.

Moving along: Man in the middle attack. Against an SSL transaction this is unlikely, and typically not worth the effort unless you know your mark well enough to know they've got deep pockets. Multiple systems would have to be compromised in sequence to make this a reality.

Another possibility: Eaves-dropping. I might have used my credit card number on the phone once when talking with the bank, whilst in my office here at work. I highly doubt this one. Although I did manually enter it into the telephone pad when purchasing movie tickets, so if anyone has tapped that line and added a DTMF decoder they're sitting on a good incoming source of numbers for people who likely have disposable income.

Automatic generation: brute force is hardly worth it when there are so many other ways to get numbers. Can still be done though - and it's possible to at least do a preliminary check against the verification algorithm before any charge attempt is made (thereby communicating with the actual server). The expiration date can be a mystery to this method, but there are vendors who won't check that.

Mail Fraud! Everybody's doing it. One of the questions we were asked was "Did you receive the courtesy checks that you were sent?" These are special paper checks that draft directly against the credit card for some reason. Presumably because some specialty vendors or mom & pop shops lack the merchant account capability to take the cards directly, or that some places prefer check (and thus offer discounts) over credit based on the mitigation of credit card processing fees and overhead. We did not receive our checks, so this is the most likely scenario this time around. Worst of all, we didn't even know they were coming, and had no notice or forewarning before the problem was manifest.

I'm more careful about what I put out in the mail now, and am more likely to use postal boxes as drop-offs than my own at the end of the street. And I shred anything sensitive before disposal. And I've requested that the bank never send me any of those things ever again - but still don't trust them.

No harm was done this time around, other than having to go into a few automated billing arrangements and twiddle the bits to something new. You want the old number? It was 4768 0001 9072 0619. Not that it will do any good, since it's been shut-down already and any attempted use under the fraudulent status would draw attention to your activity if the FBI is doing its job.

Now that the dust has settled, I can get back to everything else it is that I normally ignore until it's a problem (stupid reticular activating system).

Oh - and the new cards came via mail. Standard USPS. Sheesh.

- Paul

Monday, May 30, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

There are many things that George Lucas is. There are also several that he is not. Both of these classifications are very apparent in the latest Star Wars installment, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.

Lucas is visionary - given the story he wanted to tell, he was quite able to assemble the components to accomplish exactly that: the production staff, special effects and technological capabilities, and of course the visual element composition (though his role in this was likely more story-board approval than creation). The pieces of the over-arching plot to connect these previous episodes and lay the groundwork for the first original film from 1977 fall into place obviously but appropriately for the intended audience. "Intended audience" has obviously been a major influence in these most recent films, with several nods toward the younger crowd that has been the merchandising cash-cow. This last installment abandoned much of that premise with its extremely dark material and made it much more palatable for the adult consumer. And the soundtrack was phenomenal.

However, the list of good bits is, I'm afraid, the short one. While Lucas may be able to represent conflict on a galactic scale (which was so far buried in the sub-text of the last 2 films as to be very disappointing), he completely lacks humanity. I once heard an excellent definition of "romantic" as: ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Here in this film the characters are so far from believable alignment in their motivations as to be outlandish and caricatured; grotesque and unrecognizable. And this is saying quite a lot - the human perspective will anthropomorphize pretty much anything to imbue it with those elements which make it that much easier to treat it in a familiar way. However, when the expectation is for the personality to already exist and we find it failing the result is a revulsion. Add bad acting and it's really a disappointment.

Natalie Portman did OK - her talent comes through in the portrayal of Padme and is satisfying. This owes partly to the writing in that hers is also the most believable character. Hayden Christensen raised the bar from the previous film, though this is hardly a challenge with as low as the expectation had been set. Still wooden, but more intense in the projection of negative emotion - which there is certainly quite a bit of. Combining this with the unbelievably swift transition to the dark side and Anakin Skywalker becomes a farcical image of angst. The motivation of "I want to save 1 person so I'll kill everyone else and sacrifice all" is not something to which the public can easily relate. At some point the concept of "greater good" becomes overriding.

I am a husband and father - I have 2 beautiful little girls. I know what it's like to worry about every part of the process of bringing one of them into the world, up to and including the extremely visceral act of child birth. And if the evil extreme ruler of the galaxy held the only clue to saving mother and child, I would still have to do away with him. No question (don't hit me, my wife agrees).

Humanity is the point of all this, as mentioned. It's something Lucas (who has writing credits on this movie) cannot satisfactorily capture. Even during the wrap up when Senator Organa is taking the infant Leia home to Alderaan - and his wife just sits there waiting for him to bring her over for the introduction! Let's dissect this - a husband, returning home from an embattled planet during a war that has led to the overturning of the values of the previous regime, with a new child. And would any woman sit there demurely waiting for him to waltz on in? Um - no. But that made the better camera angle and didn't put too much emphasis or interest on what are supposed to be side characters, so don't bother developing them too much.

*Sigh*. This is not meant to be a blow by blow, so I'll knock that off. Otherwise this would be way too long.

Other major components missing are physics (planets which couldn't possibly hold a breathable atmosphere, inaccurate principles applied during space combat), medicine (evidence of grossly negligent or completely absent prenatal care, inconsistent application of terms ["surgery" mentioned but natural child-birth portrayed - and where's the epidural? fluid replenishment? support equipment (or read-outs)?], etc. - and this is supposed to be at a far advanced level of technology at that), and theology.

But hey, the fights looked good, right? And even if nobody in their right mind goes to bed with fresh lip-gloss on, the screen is still lit-up beautifully. The public will buy anything that's at least pretty, so that's all that matters.

There's more, but it's a holiday and I'm going to spend a little more time with family.

- Paul

PS. Obi Wan: "Only Sith deal in absolutes." That's like, "Help stamp out Intolerance!" or "I HATE bigots!" (which I read in someone's online profile once). To quote the highly sarcastic words of the venerable Sideshow Bob: "That was a well-plotted piece of non clap-trap that never made me want to retch." Good grief.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Magical Mike-B-Gone

There are at least 2 ways to interpret the context of the title: either some mythical product known as "Mike-B-Gone" is magical, or "Magical Mike" is (or is commanded to be) gone. This is about both; and they both make me very sad.

There have been some mangement changes here at work, effective Monday, May 13th. These changes complete the erosion of many concessions I helped to put in place July '04 to allow Mike to stay under similar changes last time something of this magnitude happened. These were hard won but had resulted in the finest working relationsip I've even been party to. One by one, those protections have disappeared over the last 5-6 months (the first 4 months were untouched bliss), removing the seasonings which made the position palatable. As of the end of this Month he'll no longer be employeed here, of his own choosing.

This comes as a shock to those who have made these changes. This alone is a little unnerving, because it means they're out of touch with him in the first place. It also indicates that despite the evidence from the work history, they were unaware of the valuable nature of those arrangements as they institute those policies and organizations that endanger them. Or were aware, but were unable to properly consider the full impact of those changes and dictates.

I attribute this more to ignorance than malice as this is the more logical and less paranoid route. They're also scrambling to try and get Mike to stay on now that the full ramifications have been brought to their attention; but they will be doing it through the same structures and mechanisms to which Mike is opposed and will be unable to meet his requirements. Mike will execute his planned departure with conviction and I see no course of action which will dissuade this.

He has no children, no large financial obligations, no contracts, and a pile of squirreled away funds that will last him 1 to 2 years depending on prudence. He also has several hobbies and pursuits that have been completely abandoned over the last year in favor of working extremely hard in what turns out to be a thankless job for him.

I'm going to quit writing now and come back to this later when my feeble attempts at communication no longer embarrass me as I read back over them. Or at least not to this degree; man, I've slaughtered this entry.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Clever Underdog

A common theme in many folkloric farytales of the medieval and renaissance ages is the clever underdog. The wily hero or heroin who outsmarts the larger, stronger, and inevitably evil force or personage. This emphasis on wit and shrewd cognition have proven thoroughly entertaining throughout the many intervening years, finding their way into pop culture references such as Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam & Elmer Fudd & several miscellaneous members of the cast of villains.

This has also lead, of course, to the farcical idiocy of those same evil-doers. Apparently much of the true entertainment value is the ridicule of those who would do harm, thus resulting in just desserts of their own concoction. But this begins to water down my point for writing about this in the first place so I'm going back to my original thought.

I am fortunate enough to have gainful employment based around those same qualities. Albeit largely formalized into bureaucratic structures and hierarchies of communication, rules for process and process management, etc.; but this is just the Dilbertian environment. The end result is still the achievement of scenarios in which a long-term gauge of success is "How clever can I be?"

I suppose this is true of any information age professional where any creative problem solving is involved. I don't believe though that this commonality derides the potential manifestation of that beloved archetype. I'm also quite certain that this post is mostly contrived in order to give my blog a small shot of CPR in hopes of some systolic momentum to simulate vitality before I have to walk away and ignore it for a while again. In that sense, have I outwitted myself? Against the forces of entropy, probably not. Have I succeeded in confusing the reader?

I just may be the bumbling villain. I need to get off the night shift.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Moved

Well, the move was exhausting but simple to execute based on good planning. We're getting comfortable in the new place and doing our best to finish the last of the tidying up at the old one, since we close on that deal tomorrow.

I'm literally falling asleep while I'm writing this, so I'm going to bed. I was trying to do some blitz work to make sure everything was solid to hand off before I go off to vacation next week. But I did that last night too, so I'm really not up to it yet. That, and I don't have PPTP configured just yet, so the VPN is off limits from this machine which I'm still trying to break in and get just how I like it (takes a while to get all the rough edges in any distro to match my idimomatic style). This just means I can't work on anything other than email, but since I'm so tired it does'n really make sense trying to do even that. Oh well, I'll take care of it tomorrow.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Cliché du Jour

Every now and again patterns emerge in my speech which take me some time to erradicate. These range from simple components of a word or two, to repeated imagery and concepts. Some of the worst to ever strike have been "actually" and "rather." Those each took me weeks to work out of my system (which I don't consider fully purged until the replacement patterns, which have weaned me off the original whilst retaining the same usefulness and general structure, are also removed).

Currently I'm fighting "moving parts." This metaphor has been extremely helpful in quickly describing the absolute complexity of the information systems at work, and the danger of introducing new, untested, or unknown factors. It also easily applies to the difficulty in keeping details straight in the overlap of home and work during the move to the new house. Too may things in either environment are losing out to an urgent counterpart in the other, and I end up being globally ineffectual because of it.

Given the situational hold, I think it will be some time before it stops being so useful; especially since I'm continuing to bring new staff on and it does illustrate that environment so aptly. I don't mind this one so much.

There are other minor ones I'm still trying to boot though, including "abberrant," "significant" & "significantly ( increases | reduces )," and "still" & "just." Makes me feel like uneducated and incomplete, with little control of my own mechanisms for communication. I should be a creature of rythm, but not habit - I want to make those decisions consciously instead of falling back to some pre-fabbed styrofoam packaged McPhrase.

At least it's not so far as to be media buzz words like "persistent vegitative state" and "weapons of mass destruction." I feel dirty typing those - even subverbalizing them. *shudder*

Thursday, March 31, 2005

That Edge

Sometimes I get edgy. For any of a variety of reasons.

I typically have 2 outlets: one is to throw myself vigorously at a task until it's complete and/or I'm completely exhausted. This removes the immediate problem, but only forestalls resolution of the underlying issue. The second method is to identify that issue, and take care of it.

I'm doing the first one right now - applying myself at some support for an old employer on a one-night contract. It's now 3:41am, so I've been at this for the last 5 ½ hours. It's taking off the edge, but I'm really going to pay for this tomorrow. I might have to work from home on Friday just to stay productive.

Either way, Mike's going to whup me at chess when I show up for work in the morning.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Passing On - Pretext

A couple months ago I decided it would be pointless to try writing a novel around my current schedule. I just don't have the raw bank of time required to produce enough creative material so as to flow contiguously. I can create bits and pieces - but lack the time and attention of a master craftsman to assemble those tiles into a mosaic with any kind of grand meaning or flow. All I can do is meander around and make little doodles.

So, true to the desire to minimize labor as often found in programmers, I adjusted my expectations: don't create something big. Try something that can be hung on the fridge before working up to the likes of Carivaggio & company. The new target: a short story, made from pieces I already know well. By lowering the complexity and boiling the task down to easily digestable nuggets I hope to increase the probability of success.

My first attempt is tentatively entitled "Passing On." The setting is simple, voicing is from a single (though evolving) point of view, and the resolution is swift. Little research is required, and the method of presentation works well even when broken apart (making stuttered drafting acceptable). The protagonist is one Charles Becker, a recently retired man (have not yet decided his humble previous occupation) in his 60's whose wife has just suffered an unexpected (no potential warning signs, no family history) stroke.

She has been an almost religious journal keeper; now Charles, faced with an uncertain future as he watches his wife's life and health transformed, feels compelled to continue that regularity even if it wasn't his to begin with. The method of evolving his entries into a clear representation of his character (not having been familiar with written expression previously) is challenge enough; to do so while he also undegoes this unique stress makes it a moving target. Still potentially difficult, but thankfully limited in scope.

Eventually Ruth dies. Having her slowly expire creates a poignant backdrop for the presentation of life. And not just her life; after-all, Charles has been married to this woman for roughly 40 years. He has no need to rehearse events or descriptions which to him are well known and documented in the body of her previous journals. Instead his writings will be reflection and insight on feeling as framed by new perspective wrought by circumstance.

Writing about a man's deep and abiding love for his wife will be thoroughly enjoyable. Taking her from him to evoke the heightened stakes required for that tenderness to come about in such honest and innocent (though still retaining typical human flaws), unpretensious(sp?) manner sets a fertile stage.

Some of my notes and entry sketches will be making it here shortly. Thought I'd give you few readers a heads-up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Rambling

Blogs are good for putting nothing in particular out there for public consumption. I've enjoyed that so far; even though I'm fairly certain the public is not digesting this, but only a small segment of technically accessible acquaintences.

L E V E L S
Stress:40%
Busy-ness:80%
Creativity:20%
Physicality:15%
Emotional State:Edgy/Sad
Attitude:Get It Done Anyway.


Because I likely know you, I've been relying on familiarity with me and my idiosyncracies to attempt to make much sense of the ramblings I've put up here so far. And patience that I might actually get to the point, given the length of some entries. I appreciate that - I know my writing is not particularly accessible. I don't know when, if ever, that will bcome a priority for me. Probably not until I write full-time for the support of my family.

Like that will ever happen. Don't get me wrong, I love it and I have designs in that direction. But I don't expect any real movement or even noises about movement for years to come. I still have to certify as a hypnotherapist and build a practice, after all.

I'm actually thinking of using this blog as an outlet for some of that; story lead vignettes, hypnosis-educational drafts (will need client support info after all), whatever.

I had some more thoughts along this line, but had to interrupt this post and save it as a draft and have completely lost the train of thought. If anyone finds a lost train (was bright orange at last sighting) please contact me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

There's Always Something

I recently installed some laminate "hardwood" flooring (really just styrofoam under-layment, partical board molded substrate, and a lacqueresque sealed photopaper surface - but it looks good and wears well) in the old office downstairs, in an effort to make the house more attractive for sale. It was a little cheaper than carpet, and since I'd already done it once before I trusted myself with the installation (not having tried carpet work experience). No question that something needed to be done, since the cats had gotten to the previous carpet, so laminate may as well do. Have done. Whatever.

Getting the flooring down went well enough. Even the quarter-round composite moulding went down fine, though on occasion requiring a little more pursuasion (in the form of aggressive nailgunning) than others. The real problems didn't start until it came time to install the Transition Strips. These are somewhat like threshold seams found between most any 2 different flooring surfaces, except they're a 2 part installation instead of simply banging carpet tacks through them. In order to keep the surface free from impact defects and hide the attachment mechanism it is first required to lay down and affix a "U" shaped plastic track into which the transition moulding itself then rests.

For 2 of the four strips this was not a problem - I simply tacked the track down to the laminate flooring itself, as it was being transitioned to the higher surface of the carpet. Cut everything to size, miter a couple of edges to match an angle, and voila: beautiful work.

The other 2 though, were stepping down to concrete and linoleum respectively. Either way, this means attaching them to exposed cement. Now the previous tack strips used to hold the carpet down near the wall edges had overcome this same challenge with masonry nails, so this is where I decided to start (after a brief stop at the local Home Depot).

Apparently my cement was not laid with nails in mind, a problem compunded by masonry nails which were too wide (but were the only option at the store). First nail went in 3/8" and quit, bending and flaking off the top 1/4" of concrete as it was removed. One more try confirmed this behavior, so the approach was abandoned - they must have used shallower, more task-specific nails for the carpetting tack-strips is all I can figure. That, and the nails I purchased are more likely for brick & mortar work.

Next up: drilling. The tracks come with a set of handy sleeves to sink into a hole into which a screw may then be inserted, expanding it and keeping the assembly tighly wedged in place. Luckily I had a 1/8" masonry bit on hand. Roughly 15 minutes into the first attempt I had a good hole in place with very little bevelling near the outside edge. The sleeve tapped easily in place with a hammer and I was good to move on to the next spot (the track requiring 3 more attachment points).

No luck. 10 minutes of almost no progress and suddenly the bit begins to glow, as captured here:

Note that this was not actually blue, which would indicate an amazingly high temperature. Rather, the digital camera on my palm pilot is infra-red sensitive. Indeed, the bit was starting to glow blue according to the camera before it started glowing red and then orange to the naked eye. During this picture it was glowing a brilliant orange-white.

I abort the attempt, and take a look at the bit: the final phases of the previous drilling must have encountered far more extreme temperature (which I could not see, it being out of sight at the bottom of the hole). The two protruding flanges on either side of the bit had begun to slag, and laid themselves up into the fluting. The end had also begun to round off so as to now completely lack the required punch.

Drilling was then abandoned in favor of industrial strength glue, which worked fine on its first attempt with no complications.

That's the iceberg - here's the tip.

I couldn't see this coming. Not in manifest form, anyway; at best I could know that, "this kind of thing usually happens," and be satisfied with that carte blanche to the cosmos to have its way with the project. Which, to be fair to me, was actually part of my initial consideration. Had I been expecting zero resistance or immediate perfection I would have been sorely disappointed.

Now expanding this to slightly more philosophical application, this same expectation of delay due to emergent complication fits everywhere in life. It makes a severely frustrating but handy excuse for an inability to perform an end goal: it's why I find myself struggling against the tide to try and leave work before 7 at night, which is no small consternation to my wife and I.

There is some wisdom in the Zen-Buddhist perspective of attempting to find interest in that which must be done next, rather than an expected or pre-specified order of events. This can relieve a great deal of internal stress as there is no longer an obstructed desire which otherwise leads to internal conflict capable of building to emotional distress and/or outbursts.

But unless everyone adopts this attitude, it's only useful until dinner time. Some effort must be laid against affecting change in environment and schedule to coordinate activity with others - if I want to be out of the office on time, I am required to disrupt the incoming stream instead of dutifully and reasonably riding it to a far distant conclusion. This does introduce conflict and stress - but is far better than the alternative of abandoning time and attention to the things which to me, Really Matter.

Finding balance between these 2 forces is the current great struggle.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Cresting the Concerts

I have long been fascinated by classical music as performed by chambers, orchestras, and symphonies. Not only for the beautiful music produced, but for the focused coordination of multiple supremely talented artists, building on their several contributions to reproduce the vision of a single individual: the composer.

Hours of practice apiece, daily over the course of months to prepare a work for performance. Across a 50 member ensemble this would result in roughly 1 years worth of constant work (50 x 3hrs a day avg. (volunteer orchestra in this case) x 2 months), which under normal 40 hour working conditions would require 4½ years to produce the same accomplishment for a single person.

(Granted there are exceptions to this in the form of organizations like the London Symphony Orchestra, which takes a few days to learn a piece and about a week to master it - but they've paid their dues elsewhere in honing their craft, so I don't really excuse them from the general pool of consideration.)

All this work to breathe life into the opus of a single creative mind. This to me represents vision and unity on an intimate but also awe-inspiring scale, and has been a subject of my admiration for the past many years - one of the reasons I've occasionally tried hand at composition myself, though nowhere near the degree of skill and scope of many a more apt member of the field.

Which brings me to item the 2nd: many an apt member.

There are enough orchestras / ballet troupes / sports teams & divisions / artisans of any realm, and several enough forums for dissemination of their work that one may select even the most particular formats and still glut themselves on a constant overlapping stream of this refined output.

Each player performing his or her part in turn, in much the same way that a series of water particles rise in sequence to produce a wave: a visual illusion of continuity despite the ever-altering interior. In just such a manner it is possible to surf across this moving crest of beautiful rendition, sampling only the top Nth of a percent of the full available body, but still amply sustained thereby.

It threatens to make disdainful connoisseurs of as all, spoiled by the performance of so many a perfect triple Salchow that no lesser display suffices. The work is not unremarkable - let's see Joe Six-tooth ("Cletus? Where'd you git yerself another tooth?" - "Sidewalk.") jump even 2 inches on ice with thin blades of metal strapped to his feet and land it. And yet we can easily dispense volumes of advice and critique from our cushy vantage, out here as the consumers of the franchise.

I'm reminded of the Romans, seeking out minutia even among the exotic to satisfy elegantly jaded pallets. But this article wouldn't have retained my true level of regard and respect for the subject had I named it "Parrot Tongue Artistry" or "The premium Creative Economy of Wolf-Nipple-Tips."

I believe the world to be far more beautiful for the labor, and pray the tide of inspiration continues to call it forth. For me at least, the multiplicity of masterpieces does not diminish their quality.